Stratford, CT Truck Crashes Into Toll Booth, Jan 1983


Stratford, Conn. (AP) -- A truck that plowed into vehicles waiting at a toll booth, triggering an explosion that killed seven people and injured three others, veered into a "cars only" lane for unknown reasons, police said.
"It is hard to say where one (car) begins and the other ends. From the flames everything sort of melted together," toll plaza superintendent Joe Bridgefort said after the accident Wednesday.
Six people burned beyond recognition were pronounced dead at the scene at the Connecticut Turnpike's Stratford toll station on Interstate 95.
A seventh victim, described only as a preschool-age boy, died late Wednesday night after being kept on life-support equipment at Bridgeport Hospital, a spokeswoman said.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, CHARLES L. KLUTTZ, 35, of Cooleemee, N.C., was listed in guarded condition today after undergoing surgery for multiple injuries, hospital spokeswoman Ann Ziff said.
Two others who were injured, one unidentified and one identified only as WARREN Lutzel of Rhode Island, were treated and released, the spokeswoman said.
The accident at 2:55 p.m. occurred in the northbound toll plaza and scattered debris across five lanes of the highway, police said. One car was so mangled that police could not make out its model.
"We don't know what caused it, but for whatever reason the truck swerved and hit three cars in an automatic lane waiting to pay their tolls," police spokesman Adam Berluti said.
"I had my back turned to the lanes when I heard a smash," said toll collector Joe Leslie, who was going off duty at the time. He turned and saw a "cloud of smoke and flames in the plaza and a car upside down, compacted with the trailer."
Leslie saw a boy in the front seat of the car and yanked open the door and pulled the child out. "I could hear another child crying in the back seat, but then the thing blew."
Another witness said he heard a woman in one car screaming for help as her vehicle burned.
Berluti said a fourth car escaped serious damage because it was leaving the toll both as the crash occurred.
KLUTTZ, driving for Southland Distributors of Advance, N.C., had stopped in New York and was heading for Boston with a load of yams.
The exact-change lanes are reserved for cars only, and state police said they did not know why the truck was in that lane.
The number of victims in each of the cars was also unknown, said Berluti.
"The six people were incinerated," state police Sgt. Harold DeSanty said. Their remains were taken to Farmington Medical Center for positive identification through dental records.
The crash caused a mammoth traffic jam as the rush hour approached.
Bridgefort said he couldn't tell how many miles traffic was backed up because "I can't see that far." There was also a six-mile backup on an alternate route suggested by police.
The Stratford toll station is one of the busiest on the highway, a main artery to New York City. Critics have claimed it is unsafe due to heavy traffic.
"Any time you put a barrier (toll booth) on a highway like I-95 it's unsafe. It has the heaviest truck traffic in the state," said state Sen. Thom Serrani.
State Rep. J. Vincent Chase said the toll station has the highest accident and fatality rates of any toll plaza in the state.
A proposal to end tolls on the highway failed by one vote in the Legislature last year.
"How many more of these deaths do we have to face?" Chase said.

Casa Grande Dispatch Arizona 1983-01-20